Tocopherol (Vitamin E)

What is it? Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant and beneficial skincare ingredient, helping protect the skin from environmental damage. It’s a naturally occurring vitamin that can be found in many carrier oils, like argan oil and cherry kernel oil, but when we talk about adding vitamin E to our formulations, it is a refined and concentrated ingredient.

The term “vitamin E” refers to 8 different chemical compounds: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta). Different vitamin E products can contain different blends or isolations of these different vitamin E chemicals. Those different blends can mean the product is better suited to certain uses than others, and can also impact the price. I recommend this very thorough article from Skin Chakra to learn more. The Wikipedia article on tocopherol is also very helpful.

It is important to know that vitamin E is not a preservative. While it can help extend the shelf life of our products by delaying the onset of rancidity, it does nothing to prevent microbial growth.

I use Vitamin E MT-50 Full Spectrum in my formulations. This product is composed of 50% tocopherols (d-alpha, d-beta, d-gamma, and d-delta) in a base of GMO-free soybean oil. You could use Vitamin E USP instead, but it is typically more expensive. I don’t recommend using vitamin E capsules or oils that are designed for direct application to the skin as these are not cosmetic ingredients, but cosmetic products.

INCI Tocopherol
Appearance Viscous amber liquid
Usage rate I typically use vitamin E at 0.5% of the oil phase to delay oxidization. New Directions Aromatics recommends 2–30% for skincare benefits.
Texture Sticky, thick
Scent Oily
Approximate Melting Point The 50% vitamin E I have is a thick liquid at room temperature; the more concentrated the product is, the thicker it will be.
Solubility Vitamin E is oil soluble.
Why do we use it in formulations? When you see vitamin E used at low concentrations (≤0.5%), it is there as an antioxidant, acting to delay the onset of rancidity. At concentrations of 2% and more, it will be contributing skin benefits as well as antioxidant benefits to the formula.
Do you need it? Yes.
Refined or unrefined? Vitamin E only exists as a refined product.
Strengths Vitamin E is an excellent, readily available antioxidant that also has skincare benefits.
Weaknesses It can be a bit pricy, but a little goes a long way!
Alternatives & Substitutions Look for other oil-soluble antioxidants; rosemary seed extract is a common one, though it is more expensive.

Vitamin E acetate is not a great alternative for tocopherol if you are including vitamin E in a formulation as an antioxidant (source). Vitamin E acetate can sub in for skin benefits, but not as an antioxidant.

How to Work with It Include tocopherol in the cool-down phase of your formulations.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, vitamin E should last 12 months. I don’t recommend purchasing vitamin E in bulk; at 0.5% you likely won’t use much over the course of 12 months!
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Learn more about vitamin E with this great blog post from Realize Beauty! This awesome post includes a de-bunking of the myth that excess vitamin E becomes a “pro-oxidant”.
Recommended starter amount 30g (1.06oz)
Where to Buy it Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon. I don’t recommend using dietary capsules, though if you really want to please research exactly what is in the capsules you want to use so you understand what you’ve got.

Some Formulations that Use Vitamin E

Ceramide Complex

What is it? Ceramide Complex is a cosmetic ingredient made from a blend of several different ceramides, free fatty acids, and phytosphingosine.
INCI Ceramide NP, ceramide AP, ceramide EOP, phytosphingosine, cholesterol, sodium lauroyl lactylate, carbomer, xanthan gum.
Appearance White semi-viscous liquid
Usage rate 1–15%
Texture Smooth, semi-viscous liquid
Scent Nothing much
Approximate Melting Point Liquid at room temperature
pH 5.5–7.0
Solubility Water
Why do we use it in formulations? Ceramides are naturally occurring fats that comprise over half of the skin’s barrier, helping protect the skin and retain moisture. They are regularly described as the “mortar” to your skin cell “bricks”. Your body does make ceramides, but they can be depleted by everything from age to hot water to UV exposure. Supplementing your body’s natural supply (and encouraging it to produce more ceramides) through topical application of products containing ingredients like Ceramide Complex can help rejuvenate and strengthen the skin.

Ceramide Complex contains a blend of different types of ceramides as well as the ceramide precursor phytosphingosine, which encourages our skin to make more of its own ceramides.

Do you need it? No, but if you suffer from dry/irritated skin it is a downright wonderful active.
Refined or unrefined? Ceramide Complex only exists as a refined product
Strengths Fantastic skin-identical skin care active.
Weaknesses It’s one of the more expensive ingredients we formulate with.
Alternatives & Substitutions There are quite a few different ceramide products on the market with different INCI values; I’d start there, seeing what is available where you live. I’ve also seen “vegetable ceramides” for sale, which could work—the INCI is very different, but the description of the benefits is very similar.

If you can’t get anything vaguely ceramide-esque you could look at other actives that will help strengthen the skin barrier; N-Acetyl Glucosamine, niacinamide (Vitamin B3), and panthenol (Vitamin B5) would be where I’d start, but make sure those ingredients are compatible with the overall formulation and ensure you are meeting any pH requirements.

You could also just replace the ceramides with more distilled water, but that’s a lot like using water where cream is called for in a soup—you’ll lose all the wonderful ceramide-y benefits, but whatever you’re making shouldn’t break.

How to Work with It Include ceramide complex in the cool down phase of your concoctions. It can result in a loss of viscosity.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, ceramide complex should last about 6 months. I store mine in my DIYing fridge.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Once you recognize the INCI values for different ceramides you’ll start to recognize them in the ingredient lists for tons of quite expensive skin care products!
Recommended starter amount 30mL (1fl oz) or less, given the short shelf life and high cost. If you can purchase less that might be a good idea, especially if you don’t already have plans to use a full 30mL (1fl oz) quickly.
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier (both Making Cosmetics & Windy Point carry it).

Some Formulations that Use Ceramide Complex

Colloidal Oatmeal

What is Colloidal Oatmeal? Colloidal Oatmeal is an ultra-fine, very refined oat flour made from whole oats (including the beneficial bran). It’s a moisturizing skin protectant, recommended for soothing irritated skin. It is not the same thing as hydrolyzed oat protein, and it’s not the same thing as oats you’d grind up at home. Definitely give this article a read to learn more as there are some funny oddities and intricacies.
INCI Avena Sativa Kernel Flour
Appearance Fine off-white powder; looks a lot like all-purpose wheat flour.
Usage rate I’ve found wildly varying ranges. New Directions Aromatics recommends 0.05–2% while Making Cosmetics recommends 5–30%. I tend to use it in the 1–5% range for emulsions, and higher for anhydrous products like bath soaks and cleansing powders.
Texture Fine, smooth powder
Scent Low; slightly oaty, but barely noticeable.
Solubility I’ve found it listed as water-soluble and minimally soluble. In my experience, colloidal oatmeal does not dissolve in water but is so fine that it disperses smoothly in emulsions.
Why do we use it in formulations? Colloidal oatmeal is a great anti-inflammatory/soothing moisturizer, making it great for dry, irritated skin.
Do you need it? No, but I love colloidal oatmeal as a versatile, gentle skincare active.
Refined or unrefined? Colloidal oatmeal only exists as a refined product.
Strengths Excellent skin-soothing moisturizer, all-natural, inexpensive.
Weaknesses If you have a topical sensitivity to gluten there is a chance of cross-contamination.
Alternatives & Substitutions Panthenol is both soothing and moisturizing, so it could be a good alternative. You could also look at combining something soothing (like calendula extract) with something moisturizing (glycerin, propanediol, hydrolyzed proteins, etc.). Urea is also worth considering.
How to Work with It Colloidal oatmeal can be hot or cold processed, depending on the needs of the formulation. In emulsions I like to include it in the heated oil phase so it doesn’t cook up into a gloppy porridge if heated with the water phase. You can include it in the heated water phase if you want to, but I find it is much neater/easier to include it in the heated oil phase.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, colloidal oatmeal can last up to two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Check out this interesting article on the intricacies and oddities of colloidal oatmeal from LisaLise.
Recommended starter amount 30g (1.06oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Colloidal Oatmeal


What is it? Cholesterol is a fatty sterol that works as a wonderful emollient. It is extracted from lanolin.
INCI Cholesterol
Appearance Fine white powder
Usage rate 1–10%
Texture Smooth powder
Scent Mine smells distinctly of lanolin, though I don’t notice it in finished formulations.
Approximate Melting Point 147–150°C (297–302°F)
Solubility Oil
Why do we use it in formulations? Cholesterol is an excellent emollient for irritated/damaged skin and hair. It also helps support/repair barrier function. It can also help stabilize emulsions and thicken products.
Do you need it? No.
Refined or unrefined? Cholesterol only exists as a refined product.
Strengths Cholesterol is an easy-to-use additive that is wonderful for the skin.
Weaknesses Cholesterol is not vegan, and the smell may put off those with sensitive senses of smell.
Alternatives & Substitutions Lanolin would likely be your best bet. Liquid lecithin or Brassica Campestris Aleurites Fordi Oil Copolymer could be decent vegan alternatives. Keep in mind that all of these options will be significantly less potent than pure cholesterol, so you may wish to alter the formulation to include more of the replacement ingredient to compensate.
How to Work with It Include in the oil phase of your formulations. It can be hot or cold processed.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, cholesterol should last 24 months from the time of manufacture.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks I first used cholesterol in this formulation from The Acid Queen. Check it out!
Recommended starter amount 30g (1.06oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Cholesterol

Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone)

What is it? Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone) occurs naturally in the human body. It is a vitamin-K-like substance with very strong antioxidant properties, and is commonly used in anti-aging skincare products. It can help prevent collagen breakdown and prevent/repair UV damage.
INCI Precise INCI values vary with the exact product you have. Liquid Ubiquinone is usually dispersed in some sort of carrier, so there will usually be some additional ingredients. The powdered version have have an INCI of just Ubiquinone.
Appearance Yellow to orange liquid or powder
Usage rate Varies with format; check with your supplier. Most ranges I’ve seen are below 4%, with the powder format on the lower end and the diluted liquid formats on the higher end.
Texture Depends on the format
Scent Nothing noticeable
Approximate Melting Point 48–52°C (118–126°F)
Solubility Oil, ethanol
Why do we use it in formulations? Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone) is primarily included in formulations for its anti-oxidant, skin conditioning, and anti-aging properties.
Do you need it? No
Strengths It’s an excellent antioxidant and has great label appeal. It can help repair sun damage (including wrinkles caused by UV exposure) and increase skin cell turnover.
Weaknesses It’s fairly expensive.
Alternatives & Substitutions I’d start by looking at other ingredients that are also strong antioxidants, like vitamin E (tocopherol acetate).
How to Work with It Pre-dispersed liquid versions can be easier to work with as Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone) is not very enthusiastically oil soluble.

Lotion Crafter recommends including powdered Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone) in the heated oil phase of emulsions to ensure proper incorporation.

I would recommend adding pre-dispersed liquid Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone) products in the cool down phase given the low usage rate, but defer to your supplier recommendations for the precise product you are using.

Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, the powder version should last up to 36 months.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Soybean oil contains a good amount of Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone), with 54–280mg/kg.
Recommended starter amount 15g (0.5oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier. As of 2019 the product I have is “Coenzyme Q10 – Q-MAX” from Lotion Crafter.

Some Formulations that Use Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone)


What is it? Caffeine is a stimulant, commonly found in coffee and tea.
INCI Caffeine
Appearance Fine white powder
Usage rate 0.1–1%
Scent Nothing very noticeable
pH 6.9 (1% solution)
Solubility Water
Why do we use it in formulations? Caffeine increases circulation and reduces puffiness, making it a popular ingredient in products for mature skin and under-eye applications. It can also help reduce water retention, creating a slimming effect.
Do you need it? No
Refined or unrefined? It is best to purchase isolated, concentrated caffeine.
Strengths Very effective de-puffing active.
Weaknesses Not a good choice for anyone sensitive to caffeine.
Alternatives & Substitutions I don’t know of anything terribly suitable; there are some caffeine extracts made from ingredients that contain caffeine (like tea or coffee) that are less concentrated than caffeine powder. If you want to use a plant extract instead of pure caffeine powder you will need to use more; the usage rate for caffeine is really low (0.1–1%) because it’s really concentrated, while the plant extract will not be. Please review the documentation provided for your extract to see what the recommended usage rates are, and adjust the amount called for to line up with the effective range of your extract; I would probably go with the maximum recommended usage rate as the extract contains caffeine, but isn’t pure caffeine.

Because caffeine is water soluble, replacing it with oils made from or infused with things that typically contain caffeine (coffee, tea, etc.) is not a good option—the amount of caffeine present is typically very low, while you may find the coffee scent to be very strong!

How to Work with It Include in the water phase of your formulations; it can be hot or cold processed as needed.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, caffeine should last approximately four years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks I’ve heard stories from people who have applied large amounts of caffeine creams before going to bed and then being unable to sleep, so tread lightly with pre-bedtime applications!
Recommended starter amount 10g (0.35oz)
Where to Buy it Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Caffeine